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July 21, 2003 // UPDATED 10:59 am - April 30, 2007
By: Craig Wilson
Craig Wilson

On planters, Skyway News took the low road

How sad that Skyway News, just weeks after re-locating its offices Downtown, published such a negative article on the 3rd Avenue median project. "Late Bloomers: A public-private partnership hoped to green up 3rd Avenue South but has more mulch than beauty to show for it (June 23)" misrepresented much of the effort gone into greening Downtown.

In the late 1990s there was an effort to create a "grand boulevard" along 3rd Avenue South known as "Avenue of the Arts." Unfortunately, the article failed to mention that a lack of revenue left little funding to implement this effort.

Councilmember Lisa Goodman and many of her colleagues are acutely aware of the positive benefits of streetscape enhancements and the public desire to "green Downtown." Goodman took it upon herself to find a way to implement what is arguably the most important portion of the vision of "Avenue of the Arts," providing green space on public right of ways Downtown. Goodman saw a window of opportunity that would not come again for decades to improve the green infrastructure of 3rd Avenue South by installing medians with planters instead of medians filled with concrete in the reconstruction of 3rd Avenue.

Goodman used her office budget -- drawn on by most councilmembers for office supplies, travel and technology -- to hire interns over three summers to research and develop the project. We managed to scrape together $300,000 to construct the planters from various capital funding sources. We then recruited Downtown businesses willing to sponsor the medians by generously offering contributions of plant material, irrigation, lighting and ongoing maintenance.

At this time, three of the five medians have been constructed. To correct the article, not one, but two of the three constructed medians have been sponsored and planted by local corporations. The company sponsoring the third median has encountered financial difficulties and had to forgo sponsorship. Discussions have begun with another prominent company interested in sponsoring the third median. Other potential sponsors are wedded to future locations closer to the Mississippi River and City Hall.

Starting a public-private partnership, especially one that is a new way of doing business on public right of way, takes time. Policies needed to be established, issues clarified, and private partners needed to be reassured that working with the City will not become more of a problem than the project is worth. The time taken to get up and running has been time well spent. Unfortunately, the timing has not coincided well with the growing season.

Instead of touting the project as a success of implementing green infrastructure during these fiscally tight times, the median project is described as a fraction of the original "Avenue of the Arts" proposal made up of "not especially artful concrete blocks." The article could have stated that the City does not want maintenance of the medians to be conducted during rush hour, causing a hazard to both drivers and volunteers; rather Skyway News writes, "...sponsors' crews cannot work on 'their' median-planter whenever they please."

The paragraph from the original article that is most insulting reads, "city officials aren't eager to explain the barren planters..." and ends "...Goodman, who refused to comment until all five 3rd Avenue South planters have corporate patrons." If this is true why did our office suggest running an article on the median project in the first place? We are not only enthusiastic about the medians but also proud of the hard work done by all involved to make this project a genuine success.

The negative spin associated with this article is dumbfounding. One would expect that, as a new business Downtown, Skyway News would have researched this topic more extensively, perhaps made a stronger effort to speak to some of the sponsoring corporations and come to the conclusion that the medians are something positive for Downtown. Skyway News missed an opportunity to excite Downtown residents and businesses about something that they very much desired but almost didn't happen. It's too bad the paper sensationalized what should be a celebration for Downtown.

- Craig Wilson, 7th Ward Summer intern at Master of Landscape Architecture & Master of Urban and Regional Planning Candidate, University of Minnesota